If you’ve spent any time on our site this week, you’ll see that we are having a customer-service centric week. It all started when I attended last week’s Next Level Purchasing Association webinar where Peter Nero of Denali Group shared his thoughts on what is next for procurement. The answer was better customer service.
As a follow up, we spoke with The Sales Guy about the kinds of internal customer service he thinks procurement can provide, and this morning we read the Wikipedia article on customer service. We’re not looking to turn procurement into a transactional call center, but some of the traditional wisdom about how to keep your customers happy applies to the relationship between us and our internal stakeholders.
The piece of the Wikipedia article that most caught my attention was the section on instant feedback. Again, we aren’t suggesting that you encourage your stakeholders to text the boss when they think it takes you too long to return a call or you push a low cost option (again). Let’s consider how this information translates to the context of procurement and our internal customers.
One of the most important aspects of a customer service KPI is that of what is often referred to as the "Feel Good Factor." Basically the goal is to not only help the customer have a good experience, but to offer them an experience that exceeds their expectations. Several key points are listed as follows:
1. Know your product – Know what products/service[s] you are offering back to front. In other words be an information expert. It is okay to say "I don't know," but it should always be followed up by "but let me find out" or possibly "but my friend knows!" Whatever the situation may be, make sure that you don't leave your customer with an unanswered question.
BMP Comments: First we have to define the services we offer to our stakeholders. Sure, we reduce costs, manage suppliers, negotiate, run RFPs, and analyze spend. Everyone already knows that. But those are the services we offer the company. What do we offer Bob in freight equipment or Bruce in facilities services? Can you help them estimate costs for a project that isn’t going to be sourced for two quarters but that they need to work into their budget now? What about re-engaging to help with a tricky service level issue after the contract has been implemented and procurement has typically moved on to something else.
We can also get a sense of what topics are important to them and pass along any interesting articles we come across. That has multiple benefits: incenting us to keep reading, proving to them that we know our ‘stuff’ and creating opportunities to stay in touch between projects. One of the best things I have learned from all of the sales events I’ve covered for The Flip Side is setting up your next visit before you leave someone’s office. I don’t mean that you should get on their calendar, but you should establish a reason to get back in touch. Something like an article or an update of a relevant index or commodity gives you a reason to reach out offering rather than expecting something and establishes your credibility at the same time.
2. Body Language/Communication – Most of the communication that we relay to others is done through body language. If we have a negative body language when we interact with others it can show our lack of care. Two of the most important parts of positive body language are smiling and eye contact. Make sure to look your customers in the eye. It shows that we are listening to them, not at them. And then of course smiling is just more inviting than someone who has a blank look on their face.
BMP Comments: The first lesson to learn from this suggestion is the value of face time. You can’t make eye contact if you can’t see someone. Making that happen will vary from company to company, but it is worth the effort. If you are lucky enough to be located on the same property, spend one day a week in an office near your stakeholders, doing your work but also being visible and available. If there is too much physical distance for that to be possible, make the most any trips that are scheduled. If you have an opportunity to make a trip, stop and consider who else you might be able to meet with before you book your flight. Allow an extra day on site to meet in person with stakeholders in your category. Even if you don’t have a project currently underway, you can still grab a cup of coffee and ask some questions. That’s probably a better scenario anyway.
3. Anticipate Guest Needs – Nothing surprises your customer more than an employee going the extra mile to help them. Always look for ways to serve your customer more than they expect. In doing so it helps them to know that you care and it will leave them with the "Feel Good Factor" that we are searching for.
BMP Comments: Without going to ‘warm and fuzzy’ on you, it is important that your stakeholders come away from a project experience with procurement feeling good about it. Even if they aren’t completely satisfied with the supplier options that were available or the final pricing or award structure, they should feel like you supported them and did everything possible to help find the best possible outcome.
That being said, it is always important to know where the line exists between your responsibility and theirs. In order to be an efficient resource for your company there will be a time in each project when your tasks come to an end, and a line in the sand beyond which procurement just does not go. Those lines should be established clearly and early in a project so that expectations are set. I once made the mistake of getting too involved with managing a difficult service category on behalf of my internal stakeholders. Not setting boundaries before they were reached created a very blurry situation that was hard to get out of without ruffling feathers. When I finally started getting calls on my cell phone in the middle of the night from frustrated supermarket managers whose parking lots had not been plowed, I had to bring it to an end, but by then I was in damage control mode and no longer able to focus on the services it was my job to provide. But that’s a story for another day…